A chance to start over


A female JMU student talks with Career Development Academy participants
Career Development Academy participants enjoy a light moment with a JMU student volunteer. 

There’s no doubt that beyond the borders of the JMU campus, Harrisonburg boasts a diverse cultural community. People from all over the world now call this area home, but learning English proves to be a serious challenge for some when it comes to being fully integrated members of the community.

That’s where the Career Development Academy comes in. Located on the third floor of Memorial Hall, the CDA offers English language classes to adult students from all walks of life. With over 400 students enrolled this spring, the academy is helping teachers, mechanics, nurses and more to learn English and start their careers anew.

This was true for Ingrid Garcia de Lazo, a trained attorney from El Salvador. After moving to America and starting at the CDA, Garcia de Lazo applied for a position as an administrative assistant in the CDA offices. Now studying to get back into the field of law, she helps other CDA students with professional degrees from international universities to find work in America in their field.

The CDA goes beyond just teaching English language lessons though. It prepares students for life outside the classroom by teaching them civic engagement and helping with career development. Through projects such as creating a health newsletter and field trips to places like Monticello, the CDA students learn firsthand about American culture. 

Moafag Aldieny, a student at CDA, said, “We learn how to read newspapers and discuss events. It is important we learn the proper words to use in the market and in the street. We need to learn the words that concern public life.”

The program also provides for experiential learning for JMU undergraduate and graduate students. Undergrads are encouraged to volunteer, complete practicum placements and observe. Graduate students get a chance to practice teaching civics, government and history lessons to CDA students.

Deserae Barney, an interdisciplinary liberal studies and modern foreign languages major, began at the CDA by observing classes during her Teaching English as a Second Language class practicum. She now co-teaches an intermediate level class with JMU master of education graduate student Leonard Richards Jr.

Barney said, “The students are absolutely my favorite part of working with the CDA. They put a smile on my face every single day. They bring so many amazing experiences and backgrounds into our classroom. They have great questions and they all have such a desire to learn. They are appreciative of us teaching and they teach us so much, too!”

Lisa Schick, coordinator of the CDA and instructor in the College of Education, encourages her JMU students to get involved because of the enormous benefits that the unique classroom setting provides. “They [JMU students] get the chance to work with culturally and linguistically diverse learners, giving our CDA students more time to practice, and giving JMU students firsthand experience with how the language acquisition process can work.”

Beyond the tangible benefits of language acquisition and teaching experience, the CDA program amplifies the sense of a proud and thriving JMU community. Schick says, “Immigrants and refugees see JMU as a place for them and they like coming to class. They see lots of members of the JMU community and recognize that we’re kind, respectful and welcoming. Many of our learners can see this institution as a place for themselves and their children.

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May 6, 2014

By Kelly Vingelis (’14)

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Published: Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Last Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2016

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